This article is part of a series of reviews of webcomics and independent comic books. Today, I review The Code Crimson by Elizabeth Fernandez and Lisa Perz.
Serena is a woman with a lot on her mind, like whether she’s a cyborg assassin from the future or just crazy, why she just killed her mother and a perfect stranger and why those human-headed octopi are crawling in through her window.
Like I said, she has a lot on her mind.
Serena is the main character, or one of the main characters, of the webcomic The Code Crimson (writing by Elizabeth Fernandez, art by Lisa Perz), which started its third issue yesterday. When the story opens, Serena is a librarian who’s hearing voices, or at least a voice, inside her head. She seems fairly cool with it, though, which would imply that she’s been living with this for a while. Other than that, there’s nothing really special about her beyond a room full of licensed tchotchkes.
Then we start Issue #1 and the worst day of Serena’s life.
A stranger named Miguel shows up in her home, holds up what looks like a guitar pick and things go crazy nuts. In the span of a few pages Serena stabs Miguel to death with her bare hand, her mother shows up and takes her friend Fitz hostage at gunpoint, Serena slices her in half with a katana, then she fights off two octopi with the heads of her two brothers. (I may be wrong about the identities of Serena’s mother and brothers; they received exactly one panel of introduction on Page 1 before they started trying to kill her) Then Serena and Fitz fly off in what can only be called a space egg.
And that’s just Issue #1.
Things calm down a bit in Issue #2. Serena and Fitz crash land in a hyperoxygenated ocean filled with cute little baby octopi and one big mama octopus. Serena fights and destroys a robot for the mama octopus. Serena and Fitz get drunk. Character development occurs. End of Issue #2.
But what about the voice in Serena’s head? That’s Code Crimson, a cyborg/program/alternate personality from the future. She was trained as an assassin, but went rogue after being hired by something called the Collective. Remember Miguel? He was trying to erase Code Crimson with his magic guitar pick That robot that she fought in Issue #2? Sent by the Collective.
Best of all, Serena is just a cover personality: the Collective “…programmed you into my head and sent me undercover. Only set me free when I was on a mission. Nothing to do but whisper in your head while you lived your tedious little life. Realized I was malfunctioning when you started talking back.” That begs the question: who’s real? Serena? Crimson?
As I may have mentioned before, I love stories where the main character is at war with himself or trying to find his “true self”. The Code Crimson is both, and has themes of imprisonment, enlightenment, awakening, empowerment and freedom that are like brain candy to me.
I may not be reacting to this comic the way Fernandez wants me to, though, because I kind of want Serena to win this battle of wills.
Code Crimson may be the “real” personality, but she also comes off as haughty and unlikeable. Maybe that’s just how assassins have to be in order to survive. Maybe being a librarian is “tedious” to a cleaner from the future with a katana and a kick-ass duster, I don’t know. What I do know is that I found myself sympathizing with Serena instead of Code Crimson. I read this comic, not as the triumphant tale of someone regaining her true identity, but as the horrific story of a confused and scared woman slowly losing her mind.
That’s really the only criticism I have of Fernandez’s story, though, and that could be attributed more to a personality conflict with Code Crimson than to any objective standard.
The rest of the story is pretty solid. Fernandez’s writing style is tight almost to the point of feeling rushed, so that the first issue is more than the usual onslaught of characters and backstory. However, she disposes of most of the support cast by the last page (or does she?). As a result, the second issue focuses on Serena/Crimson and Fitz and goes down a lot smoother.
That brings me to Perz’s art. It’s… cute, I’ll give it that. I’m normally suspicious of anything as relentlessly cute and adorable as The Code Crimson, to the point of backing away and looking around for something to construct a makeshift crucifix.
Perz’s style is unique, though, and that forgives a lot of sins in my book. I especially liked her heavy use of lush full and two-page spreads - The Code Crimson would be breathtaking in print -and she puts a lot of skill and playfulness into her character designs and the comic’s gift-wrap patterns and solid, candy-like fields of color.
That being said, her character anatomies and poses are also awkward at times, and while I did get used to the wall-to-wall Margaret Keane eyes, they were off-putting at first.
They. Stare. Into. My. Sooooooooooul.
I don’t have any huge complaints about Perz, though. Her art is clean and counterbalances Fernandez’s story in a weird but sometimes delicious way: they’re not star-spawned alien horrors from beyond time, they’re kyoot octopuses awwwwwwwwww
To sum up, I recommend The Code Crimson. Even if you have a perfectly reasonable allergy to cuteness, come for the story. And if you don’t, pull up a chair and feast on teh kyoots.
The Code Crimson updates fairly regularly on Wednesdays and is available for free on the Internet. However, you can support Fernandez and Perz by picking up Issue #0, Awakening, for $3 at their Storenvy site. I’ll be taking off the rest of the week from reviews, but I’ll be back next week with more. Stay tuned, true believers!